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Living Now: Seven tips for traveling after transplant

For Chris, traveling with her husband before her transplant was one of her greatest joys. After he died suddenly in an accident about 18 months after her transplant, she knew that traveling was something she wanted to do again.

“I knew that I could choose to sit home and feel sorry for myself, or I could get out and rediscover what I could do with the health and life that I had been given back. I chose to do that,” she says.

But getting back to traveling took some time. “It was about 2 years after my transplant before I felt like I had the stamina and strength to travel. I took short car trips first and worked up from there. My first flight was from my home on the West Coast to the East Coast. And eventually about 3 years after my transplant, I felt like I was ready to visit my donor in Germany,” Chris says.

Mike also knew he wanted to spend time away from home after his transplant. “Before my transplant, my wife and I would spend several months in Florida during the winter. It took just over a year after my transplant before I felt ready to give that a try again,” he says.

Chris and Mike say planning ahead is the key to staying healthy. And by planning ahead, you’ll also be prepared if the unexpected happens. The following are suggestions for traveling after transplant. Make sure you also follow any instructions your doctor gives you.

1. Talk to your doctor before you go.

Tell your transplant doctor or primary care doctor about any of your travel plans. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before you schedule your trip to make sure your doctor feels you’re healthy enough to travel. Ask if there are any precautions you should take while you’re away from home.

2. Take a letter from your doctor and a list of your current medicines with you.

“I always travel with a letter from my doctor that explains my health history, my condition, the list of medicines I’m on and my most recent blood test results,” Chris says. “I also make sure my sons have a copy of my Power of Attorney for Health Care, and I carry my advance directive with me, just in case it’s needed.”

If you’re traveling to a different country, have the letter and list of medicines translated into the language of the country you’ll be visiting.

It’s also a good idea to carry emergency contact numbers with you, along with an after-hours phone number for your medical team. If you wear a medical alert bracelet, be sure that information is up-to-date. And don’t forget to bring your insurance information with you.

3. Know where the nearest hospital or transplant center is, in case of an emergency.

Both Mike and Chris needed to go to the hospital while they were away from home and are thankful that they were prepared.

Because Mike was going to be away from home and his transplant doctor for several months, his doctor connected him with another transplant doctor in Florida.

“He gave him all of my files and asked him to be my doctor if needed. It was a good thing we had done that because I had some severe respiratory issues and needed treatment,” Mike shares.

4. Make sure you have enough medicine with you.

Take all medicines with you in their original containers. If you’re flying, pack your medicines in your carry-on bag. And be sure you have enough medicine with you to last you the whole time you’ll be away.

If you’ll be living away from home for a bit, like Mike, make sure you have your prescriptions transferred to a nearby pharmacy and check to see that you have enough refills to get you through the amount of time you’ll be gone.

Some medicines must be kept cool. You’ll need to get a small cold gel pack from your pharmacist and make sure there is a convenient, secure refrigerator you can use at your destination.

If you bring prescription pain medicines with you, make sure you understand any legal restrictions, especially if you’re going to another country.

5. Let other people know about your needs.

If you’re planning a visit to see friends or family, let them know about any restrictions you have. For example, give them a list of foods you can eat, those you need to avoid and how your food needs to be prepared.

If you’re going to be traveling with a tour group, contact them ahead of time. “I’ll explain that my immune system is weak and that there are certain restrictions I have, especially with food. They’re really good about making sure that everything is okay for me to eat,” Chris says.

6. Take precautions on the plane or in hotel rooms.

Ask your doctor what precautions you should take if you’re flying or staying in a hotel room. The first time Chris took a long flight, she wore a mask and gloves as a precaution. “The people sitting next to me looked worried and I said, ‘It’s not me, it’s you!’ I explained that I’d had a transplant and my immune system was weak,” she shares.

When she arrives in a hotel room, Chris also wipes down all of the hard surfaces—like faucets, sinks, toilet seats, countertops and desks—with disposable sanitary wipes. And she never walks around a hotel room without socks or slippers.

7. Take it slow.

Deciding when to start traveling is up to you and your doctor. If you feel ready, ask your transplant doctor what he or she thinks. If your doctor gives you the go-ahead, Chris says, “Just do it. Start with small trips and develop your confidence slowly.”

Mike adds, “If you have the energy to travel and your doctor’s okay, go for it! But don’t overdo it. Take your time, enjoy yourself, but schedule some downtime, too. It’s not a sprint, it’s a journey.”

While you may be tempted to let your guard down and “just have fun” while you’re away from home, continue to follow your doctor’s advice. Take your medicines on schedule, eat and drink

according to your doctor’s recommendations and protect yourself from the sun and bug bites. If your immune system is weak, avoid dirty and crowded locations as well as lakes, pools and hot tubs.

Ask a traveling companion to support you in making good choices so you can have fun without taking unnecessary risks with your health.

Travel checklist

When you’re packing for your trip, make sure you have

  • A summary of your medical condition and treatment
  • Your vaccination records
  • Any medicines you may need
  • Copies of your prescriptions
  • Your insurance information/card
  • Emergency contact information